For the past four years we have been growing 1000 Tomato Plants to supply our Farmer’s Market.
This was the first time we grew tomatoes other than a few plants for personal consumption. We did not spray for any insects or disease and didn’t do any form of trellising or staking. The crop was a great success. This success gave me the confidence that as long as we grew tomatoes on virgin ground we could grow them with low input costs and labour. It also got me thinking that growing organic tomatoes could be a niche to explore.
Year two we moved to a stake system to reduce the amount of wireworm damage done to ripen fruit as well as speeding up harvest. I also though that getting the plants spaced out and off of the ground would allow for more air movement to keep the humidity out of the canopy and reduce the risk of fungal infection. As you can see in the picture below i was growing a healthy plant.
We got lots of rain in 2008 and the plants grew taller than the stakes and had a very good healthy fruit set. I saw the first few tomates turning that bronze colour starting to ripen. I started rubbing my hands together thinking we were going to get a big crop. Two weeks later the crop was decimated from Late Blight. With my background being cash crop I had never had to deal with this disease. I referenced our local resources for more info and decided to follow the treatment recommendation for the next year. (see http://www.omafra.gov.on.ca/IPM/english/tomatoes/diseases-and-disorders/late-blight.html#advanced)
2009 Crop Year
I followed the same process that got us healthy tomato plants in 2008 except this year I was going to apply some fungicides in relay to protect the crop. The problem was that my lack of experience with battling diseases let me to be a little lackadaisical with the interval. The recommended interval was every 5-7 days. I worked in a spray every 10-14 days depending on my schedule. I was successful in waisting money in 2009 because deja vu kicked in after we were only able to harvest a bushel from the field. Withing 10 days the crop was annihilated. After consulting with some agromomist that deal solely in horticulture crops they kind of laughed and said that my interval was way to wide and I should have stuck to the program and we would have had some success. It should be noted that i did observe that the roma tomato’s i grew directly beside my stake tomato’s lasted about 5 days longer. This observation made me think that variety selection might be something to look at to battle the disease.
I didn’t have much luck finding a variety that fit our climate and had claim to having late blight tolerance but i did change to an earlier variety to gain a longer season. I also changed my process to reduce labour cost on my staking and went to a page wire fence as a trellis. Other than that i kept the same process except for of course the decision to follow a strict fungicide schedule. I made it my mission of the summer to be in that tomatoe crop once a week to protect the crop. I checked in with www.onvegetables.com daily to see if their was any chatter of late blight in my area. I had heard that there had been infestations in my area and I seemed to maintain a healthy crop and was able to pick a full harvest much like in 2007. Once the threat of frost was on the radar I decided we could lay off the spray program because we were in the clear and it would be a waist to protect a crop that frost was going to kill any day. As luck would have it we missed a killing frost on the first cold snap of the fall and the season extended until the end of October before a killing frost. We kept picking and selling tomato’s but did not resume the spray program. It wasn’t long before i started observing some familiar symptoms on the plants. Here is a picture of three weeks after i stopped spraying.
My Experience over the last four years makes me think I was out to lunch when i thought that we could grow tomatoes organically.
Here are my stats:
- 25% success rate of no late blight infestation.
- 75% chance of infection of which a 50% chance of complete crop failure.
I’m going to look harder into varieties and weather modeling to see if i can reduce my fungicide use and increase my so far terrible record of grown tomatoes. Stay Tuned.